Spin-offs are a funny thing. In the case of Persona, they end up bigger than the product they’re spun off from. In the case of Joey … you catch my drift.
Judgment was a fascinating experiment from Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. Yakuza already had a rabid fanbase, but by the time we got to meet Tak, lots of people were just meeting and falling for Kiryu’s charms for the very first time.
It also came at a time when both games had very similar looks, settings and fighting styles, both going for the button-mashing style the franchise is renowned for. But with Lost Judgment, the rules have changed a little bit. Yakuza is now a turn-based series with an all-new protagonist, whereas Judgment is sticking to what made the franchise famous while also leaning into a new mystery-driven direction.
If Judgment was content to tinker with the formula, gradually finding its feet and experimenting within a familiar setting, Lost Judgment has taken those staples, refined them, and really carved out an identity for itself, distancing itself even further from Yakuza and building itself a self-contained legacy.
That’s not to say those who play Yakuza will feel disconnected. Far from it, many of the things you love are here like the random street brawls, the opportunities to play off-the-wall mini-games and dive into SEGA classics at the Arcade. But Lost Judgment also feels more of a sleuth-em-up with more opportunities for stealth, investigating individual scenes, and a Case File to track progress.
Tak’s not your average detective, of course, cruising down the streets of Yokohama on a skateboard and wielding umbrellas like a baton, deflecting enemy strikes. His laser-focused kicks are only matched by his talent for finding evidence and building an effective case in a courtroom.
Lost Judgment’s story is a divisive one, though. While there’s a murder mystery to solve, at the heart of it is a bullying crisis at a local school. Tak and the gang are called in to observe what’s happening, but what they discover is a much deeper, intricate plot that has connections to the outside world.
The game plays into some really strong themes, some unsettling like the treatment and harassment of students at the school, as well as the relationship with teachers, but for the most part the game does a relatively good job of handling them sensitively. Without going too deeply into spoilers, there’s a whole section of the gang getting students to stand up for their fellow classmates when being victimised, which was really refreshing to see.
The main issue is pacing as the story is a bit slow to get started and it jumps around pretty frequently in the early stages. The way mechanics are introduced to the player is a well-engineered as ever and you never feel completely overwhelmed despite the size and scope of the game, but some scenes do go on for far too long and on some occasions, without ever really saying anything new at all.
The other thing that I’m in two minds of even talking about are the recaps preceding each chapter. While I’m a huge advocate for this and think most games should follow this pattern, particularly when they’re long and busy, I’m not sure they needed to be played when in the middle of a session. These sorts of things feel more effective when you’re loading up a game and picking up from a save file. The game already has a tendency to hit you over the head with its narrative beats, this just felt a bit like overkill.
But once things click into gear, you’ll find yourself swept up in the action and excitement, spending your time exploring and indulging in the side cases, of which there are plenty.
There’s new arcade games to find, including, of all games, Sonic the Fighters, alongside the usual classics like Space Harrier and Super Hang On. But on top of that you now have a Master System in your room and can check out some classic games such as Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Fantasy Zone and Woody Pop. Ridiculously, the roster of games sewn through Lost Judgment is worth the price of admission on its own, especially since you can alternate between English and Japanese versions.
And if that’s not enough, you can also play a Virtual Reality board game, darts, Mahjong and a Drone Shooting game to pass the time. It is simply incredibly the amount of things you can see and do in Yokohama.
That’s something else I loved about Lost Judgment, is that the games have often stuck to Kamarocho. And wonderful though it is there, it’s also super refreshing and exciting to explore new environments and not know the map from back to front, seeing new sights and being able to take in the glorious scenery. Especially in 4K.
Something I was a little concerned about going into Lost Judgment is how the engine would hold up on the new generation of systems. While this is still a cross-platform release much the same as Like a Dragon, you can see the real benefits of playing on PS5. The lighting is staggering, the activity in Yokohama holds up, giving a real feel of a living, breathing world, and the combat is wonderfully fluid.
The detail and depth here is just mind-blowing at times, both in terms of aesthetic and content. Side quests are given a level of attention and love that, honestly, most games should take notes from, especially since it never really comes to the detriment of the game’s main story.
Essentially, the Judgment franchise is ready to move forward and do its own thing, slowly but surely stepping out of Yakuza’s massive shoes. There’s still plenty of familiarity here, and I don’t think the franchise should lose that, but I also believe the franchise is ready to really start building its own brand and the next bold move for Judgment, should there be a third installment, is to really lean even further into its detective work and case solving.
Because one other criticism I do have is how everything still seems to be solved with, well, violence. I love the combat and as someone who’s played all the Yakuza games, I took to it like a duck to water, but for a game centered around mystery and intrigue, sometimes I’d quite like to explore the sleuthing just a little bit more and hopefully in the future more of a healthy balance will be struck.
All in all, though, Lost Judgment is great. Its over-generosity means you’ll be playing hours before, during, and after you’re done with the story, and the story at play is still much more engaging than most anything else out on the market. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel too much this time, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios have given us more of what we loved last time and flesched out the mechanics even further, ultimately still trying new things.
Judgment feels like a franchise ready to step out of Yakuza’s shadow and stand-alone, but it’s still not quite there yet. Still, Lost Judgment is a must-play and an enjoyable ride from start to finish. I cannot wait to see where they take the series next.
+ Looks simply stunning on next-gen
+ Some really fun, well-developed mechanics to compliment the adventure
+ A compelling story with some surprisingly challenging themes
+ Huge range of side activities with an amazing amount of care and attention to detail
– While there are changes, not a huge jump from the first game in terms of mechanical adjustments
– Some scenes go on for too long and fair bit of repetition in the narrative
Lost Judgment is now available on PC, PS4, PS5, and Xbox
Played on PS5
Code kindly provided by SEGA